Otunba Subomi Balogun: The Grandmaster Gracefully Hits 82 years
When on March 9, 1934, Otunba (Dr.) Michael Olasubomi Balogun was born into the Balogun family in Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State, perhaps little or nothing did his parents know about the great phenomenon their child would grow to be, not only within his immediate environment, but also far beyond.
Through the thrills and frills of life and existence, this man fondly called, ‘’The Grandmaster’’, in business circles where he has excelled beyond description, has gracefully hit fourscore years plus two, 82, with agility of mind and tenacity of purpose. Over this period, he has garnered many epithets and appellations, which present him as a colossus bestriding the Nigerian business community and, in particular, the Ijebu socio-cultural milieu.
He is the founder of First City Group, a baron of the Nigerian capital and money markets; doyen, pioneer and role model of entrepreneurial banking in Nigeria, a constructive philanthropist and a distinguished church leader who has devoted a substantial part of his private resources towards the care and service of the less privileged in his immediate community and beyond. He is the Otunba Tunwase, the Olori Omo-oba of Ijebu; Asiwaju of Ijebu Christians, the Baba Oba of Ijebu-Ife and the Asalu-Oba of Ijebu Mushin. Otunba Balogun is also a Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON)
A lover of children who has built several institutions for the health care, welfare and survival of children, Otunba Balogun is also a distinguished author, opinion leader, writer and a respected community leader whose contributions for community welfare continue to expand even as he grows older.
“I have a very strong character. There is nothing that I did that I wish I had not done. I have no regret over any of my past actions”, he says.
Recalling when he was to set up First City Monument Bank (FCMB),a wholly Nigerian Bank which he singlehandedly established, he said he was coming up with a culture of excellence and he went ahead to define what the culture of excellence would be. It is to his credit that he was the first to create a special dining room for banks and was also the first to insist on bank staff wearing dark suits.
Living in a clime where life expectancy is short and longevity has become an exclusive preserve of a few, attaining the age of 82 in a graceful manner as in Otunba’s case is, in all modesty, a privilege and, quite interestingly, this grandmaster seems to have resigned to God. “I want my God to use me. I want to spend the rest of my life giving my service to God and humanity. I want my God to give me the opportunity of showing my appreciation” he says with a sense of accomplishment, adding, “this birthday is an occasion for giving thanks. I am not asking for anything again in life. All the beautiful things of this life God has given to me”.
Quite early in life, at age 13, he found peace and with God, believing in His Son- Jesus Christ- and the scriptures in spite of his Muslim background. “My two parents were very religious but they were Muslims”, he says, recalling that when he was at Igbobi College, he was drawn to attend service. Continuing, he says, “incidentally, my late mother was educated. I confided in her that I was going to convert to Christianity. The late Bishop Segun, who was a priest at Porogun Church in Ijebu Ode, converted me at the age of 13. Having accepted Jesus, I just found myself loving Him”.
It is instructive that not only does this man love God, but also loves reading the scripture and says that “the more I read, the more I get to know God and the more I love Him. I have become so much involved in talking about Christ”.
Arguably, Otunba Balogun has reached an altitude in life that is shaping his attitude of gratitude to God which explains his conviction that he has a duty now to devote the rest of his life to serve God, to serve humanity and to continue to do things such as he did with the Otunba Tunwase National Paediatric Centre- a massive health care centre he built and donated for community use. Unlike many accomplished men in his class, he believes too that, at the end of the day, no one will drive a Rolls Royce to the grave, nor will anyone carry his house to the grave. “When the final call comes, you will just open your hands and say, God, here I am. To be able to do that, you need the grace of God”, he says in advice to humanity in general.
Perhaps, it is not out of place to link his disposition with inner purity, which Balogun has externalized through his trade mark white apparels, buildings, cars, etc which, to him, is God-given. “People talk about my wearing white. I just felt at a point in life that I wanted to be pure and the nearest to purity is white. So I chose white as my colour. Beyond houses, my cars, my everything is white”, he reveals.
Living in a society where individualism, love of self and lack of fellow-feeling and public spirit have driven wealth acquisition and crass materialism to a crazy and dizzying point, he has distinguished himself with rare altruism- sleeping, waking and thinking about how to impact positively on communities and people, especially the less privileged in his society. Philanthropy is almost always an interesting pastime for those who have the giving spirit and for Otunba Balogun, it goes beyond a pastime to what could be seen as a creed, hence he set up the ‘Otunba Tunwase Foundation’ through which he ventilates his philanthropic spirit in services to the community.
On his 60th birthday, when he commenced the construction of the Otunba Tunwase National Paediatric Centre (OTNPC), he handed over a cheque of N10 million to the Chairman of the Management Committee to start off the construction.
In August 2000 when he presented his Memoirs, ‘’The Cross, The Triumph and The Crown’’, he specifically directed that all proceeds from the sale of the book should be channeled to the completion of the Project. In December 2011, he handed over the ONTPC to the University of Ibadan. And on June 7, 2013, the Paediatric Centre, valued modestly at N3.7billion, was wholly donated to the University of Ibadan at a signing of Deed of Total Gift ceremony.
By the last count, he has awarded over 300 scholarships to many Nigerians at secondary and tertiary levels and has endowed, perpetually, an annual award of scholarships to the best students in Muslim College, Ijebu-Ode in honour of his late father, and also set up another scholarship endowment in honour of his mother known as “Iye Subomi Scholarship”.
He also has endowments for the Nigerian School for the Blind at Oshodi, and has also instituted, through FCMB, an Annual National Marathon Championship for Disabled Athletes. These are besides other religious gestures having single-handedly endowed churches and established dioceses for some Christian denominations in Nigeria.
In recognition of his contributions to the growth of people and places, Otunba Balogun has a lot in his kitty as awards. He is a recipient of the American Biographical Institute Inc’s Distinguished Leadership Award for outstanding contributions to the development of Investment Banking. He is also a recipient of the University of Ibadan’s Degree of Doctor of Laws (Honoris Causa) in recognition of his outstanding achievements both in the field of Law and his contributions to the socio-economic development of Nigeria; a Merit Award for philanthropic services to Ogun State in particular and the country as a whole, and also the Ijebu Development Association award and Council Membership of a number of multi-national Chambers of Commerce. The Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria made him a Fellow of the Institute for his pioneering and outstanding contributions to the Banking Industry.
At 82, in some social conditions, life is a descent and the individual who embodies such life generally goes down in mental alertness and sound reasoning. Balogun differs in all of this and it is not difficult to trace his sound mind, firm stature and strong spirit to the supportive role of the woman in his life who is the proud mother of his four equally accomplished sons. “God gave her to me; I believe there was a manifestation of God’s influence on my choice”, he says, stressing that each passing day, so many years after, has seen to the confirmation of that assertion.
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